Leading AMR expert calls for state-funded research into new antibiotics

Lord Jim O’Neill

Establishing state-run drug companies or “utilities” may be the only solution to boost the development of new drugs and win the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR), according to Lord Jim O’Neill, the government’s former AMR czar.

Lord O’Neill, an economist and current chair of Chatham House, described the current antibiotic pharmaceutical market as “broken”.

Industry’s modern business model was “too rigid”, he said, with drug companies seeing their priority as “rewarding their shareholders”.

The peer, who chaired the government’s global AMR review in 2016, told the AMR event, which was held on 27 March 2019 and was organised by the Wellcome Trust, that there was a need for “something new to shake up the status quo”.

And he warned industry: “If you’re not going to do it yourself, we’re going to turn certain parts of your business into being a utility.”

Lord O’Neill went on to accuse drug companies of “spewing out nonsense about their commitment to producing antibiotics”.

He added: “If pharmaceutical companies delivered just a tenth of the commitment that comes from their words, we might actually get somewhere. It leads me to think that some of the more radical ways of changing the risk/reward incentive and social circumstances of it now need to be explored more.”

His criticism of industry’s lack of commitment to developing new antibiotics in the battle against AMR was rejected by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), which represents drug manufacturers.

Sheuli Porkess, deputy chief scientific officer at the ABPI, said in a statement: “The pharmaceutical industry is hardly standing still in the fight against AMR.

“We have been working closely with the government for the past two years and companies are ready and waiting to start testing a new model which will support antibiotics research and development this year. We shouldn’t write off this plan [the new model] before we’ve tried it.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, April 2019, Vol 302, No 7924;302(7924):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2019.20206356

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